James Lawton: Bellamy lifts Dalglish pressure and piles it on to Villas-Boas

The best Villas-Boas can hope for now is a little patience and understanding

James Lawton
Monday 21 November 2011 01:00 GMT

If pressure seemed to be fairly evenly distributed, with Kenny Dalglish enduring at least as many worries as his young rival Andre Villas-Boas, it was only until Craig Bellamy reminded us that sometimes even the most quirkish of individuals can be well worth the trouble.

Bellamy not only gave Liverpool a massive injection of early bite and composure, he pushed Chelsea's already jumpy defence into the terrain of the nervous breakdown.

It meant that while Dalglish was provided with a workable antidote for those ripples of concern accompanying some humdrum performances at Anfield, Villas-Boas now has to deal with something a lot closer to a full-blown crisis.

Villas-Boas, understandably enough given his spectacular progress in the game, has shown no reluctance to talk the talk of an upwardly mobile young football man. Now, though, there is a different kind of obligation.

It is to provide some early, convincing evidence that a second straight defeat at Stamford Bridge – the first such convulsion since before the days of Jose Mourinho – is no more than the inevitable consequence of some major transition work. For much of this game that didn't look a lot more than some rather extravagantly wishful thinking.

Despite a much livelier second-half performance after a major tactical overhaul at half-time, Chelsea still looked like a team searching for a hard centre, a clear idea of what it was truly about. Daniel Sturridge fired in an equaliser with some poise and Pepe Reina was required to produce a superb save from Branislav Ivanovic, but when Chelsea poured forward too often it seemed a matter of chance and speculation.

Liverpool, away from the clamour and the expectations of Anfield, seemed rather more relaxed and, when it mattered, considerably more potent. Glen Johnson's winner was taken with brilliant aplomb and he was agreeably free from some of the stridency that tends to build when a big-name player finds himself out of the spotlight. Yes, he has had injury problems, and, yes, his England career has gone into fairly chilly storage, but here was a chance to remind everyone, not least his old club, that he was capable of some extremely polished performance.

Chelsea couldn't begin to complain. It is true they had most of the second-half momentum, but never to the point where Liverpool seemed likely to surrender totally that first edge created when Bellamy drove home some impressive early pressure with a one-two combination of such precise and unselfish judgement Chelsea could only slump against the ropes and await their fate.

Maxi Rodriguez converted Bellamy's second and most surgical ball deep in the Chelsea box and for a little while the expression of Villas-Boas's face spoke of more than a fleeting crisis.

He looked not a little like a man who had been handed the challenge of his short but so far brilliant football life, one who indeed might just have been contemplating the possibility that his owner, Roman Abramovich, is passing through a period of some doubt about his belief in a £13m managerial investment.

For a little while Chelsea did find the nerve to defy the ability of Liverpool to mount such easy and convincing pressure with the movement and imagination of Bellamy and his forward partner Luis Suarez. But with Charlie Adam and Lucas both helping to dispute the midfield with a growing relish, you had to wonder how much of that old swaggering self-belief is available to the anxious Villas-Boas.

In a perfect world Abramovich might been experiencing his own bout of self-doubt, a possibility provoked by Fernando Torres' latest delayed arrival in the heart of some vital action. Torres came on with Raul Meireles to bring the late promises of striking touch and a serious creative impulse, but like most of the others it died a swift and forlorn death.

Abramovich has, of course, been here a wearisome number of times. Rarely, though, can Stamford Bridge have been so gripped by a sense of narrowing horizons and insistent pressure. Manchester City, having so thoroughly outspent them, are now the team of ambition and growing certainties and the best Villas-Boas can hope for now is a little patience, a little understanding that making a new team, with new priorities, is something that takes a little longer than a few months. Perhaps a phone call to his old mentor Mourinho might not be a source of sure-fire reassurance, however. Perhaps he should also ignore any input from Big Phil Scolari or Carlo Ancelotti.

Patience is maybe the last desperate call in a place like Stamford Bridge. Certainly, the idea may have crossed Dalglish's mind when he produced a trademarked celebration at the moment of Johnson's winning strike. He may have a degree of pressure, but he knows all about it and its various degrees.


Bayer Leverkusen host Chelsea on Wednesday having beaten Kaiserslautern 2-0 in the Bundesliga on Friday. Michael Ballack opened the scoring against his former side before Sidney Sam doubled the lead. Chelsea, two points clear of Leverkusen at the top of Group E, beat the Germans 2-0 in September.

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